Sunday, July 8, 2012
Hard to heal
By Bill Kraus
A week ago I urged candidates to tell us to quit making vague promises and start talking turkey about what they will do about the big problems of debt and dependency if they are elected.
A friend reminded me about the distance between diagnosis and cure by asking “and your solutions?”
Like Republicans historically, I am simply baffled by people who pass up opportunities and choose to behave in ways that doom them to lives of squalor and dependence or worse. This, incidentally, leads to the main difference between me and the historical Democrats. The Democrats think that it is their (our) fault that people pass up opportunities and choose destructive lifestyles. So they propose a lot of programs and spend a lot of money to assuage their guilt by using the blunt implements available to government to do something about this.
The war on poverty comes to mind. It didn’t last long. Poverty won. The Democrats get credit for attempting more than the baffled Republicans do, but as Charles Murray articulates in his depressing book Coming Apart this societal cancer persists and may be growing.
What I didn’t suggest last week, but would settle for, is putting this very high on the campaigners’ agendas.
Once it’s there we may have to resort to what old timers will recall was the Ross Perot solution to almost anything. Bring more intelligence and creativity to bear on the problem. Put the most able people in the room and get them working on practical solutions for the woes that afflict us, including, and perhaps particularly, this one. Too simple, but not dumb.
Since Perot was around destroying whatever chance Bush I had to be re-elected, there has been a serious decline in the quality of the people running for and being elected to public office. There are economic reasons for this (like there are economic reasons that 40 percent of Princeton's graduates head for Wall Street), but the main one is that a lot of the things I dislike about the turn our elections have taken have turned people away from careers in politics and made the barriers to entry higher both ideologically and monetarily.
At the same time a lot of things, many of which are also delineated in Charles Murray’s book, have led to destructive non-involvement by the people: staff driven do-good political organizations, outsourcing of political activity by the elites of all persuasions, and a kind of downgrading of the respect that those who ran for office and represented us were given by too many of us.
Governing and politics were honorable trades, practiced by people who we mostly thought deserved our respect and support.
We need the elites back in the game and a lot of good stuff that came with them, including civility and pragmatic rather than ideological solutions to new and difficult problems.
One example from the far distant past comes to mind. When FDR got Social Security through a docile Congress, he knew it was probably unworkable. Nothing this complicated goes from the drawing boards (or worse yet, the sausage factory) into smooth operation. He brought Republican Governor Winant out of New England to Washington to run it. Obama should do the same to navigate the launch of healthcare reform if there is a Republican governor who could do the job. If there isn't, he should find someone with those credentials in the business or academic community.
An old rule of government is that the partisans like issues that inflame. The people want a government that works. When it gets one, respect will return.
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Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board
Posted by Common Cause in Wisconsin at 6:16 AM